Category Archives: Close Reading Essays

Revised Essay on Hemingway

Snows of Kilimanjaro

            It is safe to say that life is never as easy as many people would like it to be; and to make it through life, one must learn how to deal with the positives and negatives of life. There are few people that actually like dealing with anything negative, and even few that are able to remain optimistic in the face of adversity and tragedy. However, there are some people that usually always seem to find peace and optimism in given situations. Unfortunately, this type of attitude can sometimes make a situation more difficult to deal with than if the person were to put some motivation behind their actions instead of complacency with whatever the end result is. In the story The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, we see how Hemingway uses this relationship to portray an even bigger theme that is: the brighter side of suffering. We can see this idea by the way Hemingway describes the actions of Harry and Helen during Harry’s sickness, and how he describes their actions as Harry come closer and closer to death.

Throughout The Snows of Kilimanjaro, we are presented with the characters of Harry and Helen. These two are in a relationship yet don’t always seem to be a legitimate match for each other. One major cause of this is because, as portrayed in his suffering, Helen seems to be someone whom is the worrier while Harry seems to have more complacency about the situation. We get some insight to this by many of their dialogues together and their past. “‘… I love you really, you know I love you. I’ve never loved any one else the way I love you.’ He slipped into the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by’” (Hemingway p. 1025). “After he no longer meant what he said, his lies were more successful with women that when he had told them the truth…. He had had his life and it was over and then he went on living it again with different…” (Hemingway p. 1026). “It wasn’t this woman’s fault. If it had not been she it would have been another. If he lived by a lie he should try to die by it” (Hemingway p. 1026). “He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else? He did not know… (Hemingway p. 1027). These quotes show that even though Harry was not the best person ethically for his reasons for dating, he would always appease his partner to feel good in his minuscule amounts of sufferings of being in relationships he no longer wanted to be in, yet he was complacent with remaining in a relationship with Helen. Versus Helen whom, through the previous tragedies (sufferings) in her life, simply did not want to be alone or bored in the world which made her seek love in someone else (brighter side): “But the lovers bored her. She had been married to a man who never bored her and these people bored her very much… Suddenly, she had been acutely frightened of being alone. But she wanted some one that she respected with her” (Hemingway p. 1027). These portrayals and ideas remain and almost get stronger as Harry’s condition worsens.

The final comparison between Harry and Helen, and how it portrays Hemingway’s idea of the brighter side of suffering, can be seen with how each of the deal with Harry’s final moments. Towards the end there are a few places where it can be argued that Harry actually passed versus what parts were simply dreamlike or after he died. In the parts leading up to his death, we as the readers are presented with a strong sense of suspense as death looms closer and more heavily on Harry It can be said that Harry’s time of actual death occurs when Helen no longer responds to him in their short and last dialogue together: “‘…You’re the most complete man I’ve ever know.’ ‘Christ.’ he said. ‘How little a woman knows. What it that? Your intuition?’” (Hemingway p. 1035). We are ironically given deaths introduction right after Harry says “Christ” and Helen no longer responds to Harry. Throughout his standoff with death however, Harry seems to focus more on the physicality of death rather than the fact that death has come for him, further showing his complacency with what he knows is to come. This is opposed to your average person whom would most likely freak out and be terrified that their life is about to end while also being terrified of death itself, rather than antagonize how it looks and how its breath smells as Harry does. However, we get a sense of peace and relief at the end of the section where it states “And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest” (Hemingway p. 1035). After Harry’s encounter with death, a new paragraph seemingly set apart from the previous section begins that seems hopeful. In this section, one could easily forget that it’s very possible that Harry just died in the previous section because this section is so optimistic and through the perspective of Harry. This is true even until the end when Hemingway subtly, clearly, and pleasantly reminds the readers that Harry has passed: “…all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going” (Hemingway p. 1038). This imagery has a sort of religious tone to it; more specifically it seems as Harry is being taken to Heaven at this point, making it a happy ending for him. Helen on the other hand is not as lucky and does not have such a happy ending. She is understandably hysterical because she has lost another important person in her life: “Then she said, ‘Harry, Harry!’ Then her voice rising, “Harry! Please, Oh Harry!’” (Hemingway p. 1037). She has a good reason to react in such a way, but it is a reaction regardless when she possibly could have been happy his suffering has ended.

Ultimately, through the use of these two characters and their interactions with one another, Hemingway effectively presents how there can always be a brighter side of suffering. While Harry has a more complacent attitude about his likely upcoming death throughout the story, Helen does not. We can see this through how they act as Harry’s infection spreads and how they act during Harry’s final moments and final moment. And even though this idea is not always directly stated, it holds when we pay attention to how the story progresses. This in turn keeps up with how Hemingway says he tries to write: “‘I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg… There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows’” (Hemingway p. 1019).

Revised Essay on Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar”

Wallace Stevens’ poem “Anecdote of the Jar” explores the struggle between humans and nature.  Nature, left alone, grows continuously, existing harmoniously in interconnected ecosystems.  Every creature, plant, and organism in nature plays a role in supporting the rest of the environment.  Humans, on the other hand, tend to take over when they enter a new place, destroying everything in their paths and, as a result, disrupting the delicate balance that existed before their intrusion.  Humans introduce artificiality into the world, converting nature from its original state of vitality and freedom to one of repression and control.  In the poem, the jar, a manmade object used for containment, is the ultimate representation of this repression.  Stevens uses style, symbolism, juxtaposition, personification, and the relationship between the narrator and the jar to effectively illustrate the containment imposed on nature by humans.

A jar is an object, made by man, of unnatural materials, with an artificial shape.  It is described vaguely as “round” like a typical jar (2).  It has a definite, immovable shape that forces whatever object or material placed inside of it to conform to its shape.  Stevens gives it a sense of superiority with the description “tall and of a port in air” and by placing it physically above the rest of the environment, “upon a hill,” suggesting it has an advantage over the wilderness (8, 2).  A jar also serves as a barrier between what is inside and what is outside.  The final feature of a jar that supports the argument that it represents containment is its lid.  When in place at the opening of the jar, the lid completely shuts out the rest of the world, enclosing only what is desired in the limited space of the jar.  The jar itself is the most obvious illustration of containment.

The jar is also personified.  It is described as having “made the slovenly wilderness/ Surround the hill” (3-4).  It is more than just an object; it takes on human characteristics, such as the ability to interact with and affect the world around it.  It represents something much larger than itself; it represents humanity and civilization.  The jar’s interaction with the wilderness of Tennessee reflects humans’ interaction with the natural world.  The most important action the jar performs is “[taking] dominion everywhere” (9).  This line reveals the true power the jar has over the wilderness.  The wilderness was suppressed, “sprawled around, no longer wild,” when it “rose up to [the jar]” (6, 5).  While the jar is merely sitting on a hill, it is capable of exerting such a force over nature that it tames the unruly wilderness, forcing it to surrender to its control.

In addition to the jar’s personification, the relationship between the narrator and the jar reinforces the argument that the jar is representative of humanity as a whole.  The fact that the narrator, “I” in the first line, places the jar into the scene, introducing it into the wilderness, demonstrates that it is an extension of him.  The jar did not appear on the hill on its own, it originated from the nameless, faceless narrator.  The power behind the jar’s influence over and interaction with the environment is the narrator, a human being.  Humans do not always directly impact the natural world, but their influence can be felt through the byproducts of their presence.   The jar, a symbol for all of humanity, contains the wilderness, reflecting humanity’s repression of nature.

Stevens contrasts the jar with the environment in which is it placed, emphasizing their differences.  He states it plainly in the last line when he says the jar is “like nothing else in Tennessee” (12).  Firstly, the jar is an inanimate object, manmade, not a part of the nature surrounding it.  The wilderness is made up of living creatures, plants, and organisms that “give of bird or bush” (11).  Trees and animals do not exist isolated from everything around them.   Instead, they provide for and sustain each other.  Secondly, the jar is immobile, described as either “upon a hill” or “upon the ground” (2, 7).  The wilderness, in contrast, is portrayed as “slovenly” (2).  It is unruly, overgrown, and constantly changing.  The wilderness “rose up” and “sprawled around,” proving it is capable of movement (5, 6).  Lastly, the jar is described as “gray and bare” (10).  It is dull, plain, and ordinary.  The “slovenly” wilderness is filled with color and texture: leaves and trees, flowers and plants, as well as the diverse creatures that live in an environment such as this.  By employing these contrasts, Stevens sets up two opposing forces that make up both sides of the struggle between the jar, representing humanity, and the wilderness, which represents the natural world.

Containment is an important theme that appears continuously throughout the poem. The most obvious place it can be observed is with the jar, but there is another important instance in which it is present as well: the setting.  The fact that Stevens places the jar in “Tennessee” not only provides a real world setting in which the poem takes place but also emphasizes the theme of containment (1).  Tennessee is an arbitrary boundary created by humans, with the purpose of taming the huge continent and bringing it under the control of man.  State lines did not exist in the natural world before humans came in and took over.  Their creation is a way for man to establish his dominion over the unruliness of nature, just as the jar takes dominion over the wilderness.

Furthermore, the poem itself reflects the theme of containment.  The style of writing is succinct, with no unnecessary words.  The three stanzas are uniform, each consisting of four lines.  In the same way, each line is generally the same length, never exceeding eight words.  The poem is not written in free verse where there are no rules and the poet is free from restrictions.  Instead, Stevens abides by certain limitations.  The short length and compact appearance of the poem can be observed when it is viewed in its entirety.  The poet’s conciseness of language and manner of writing echo the restrictiveness of the jar on the natural world around it.

Stevens’ choice of a jar as the subject of the poem successfully expresses the battle between humanity and the natural world.  Jars contain and restrict.  They serve as an excellent representation of the result of human interaction with nature.  In this poem, the jar represents humanity and its pattern of suppressing nature, taming it in order to fit into man’s ideal civilization.  Nature may still exist, but it will be in a different, more limited form, such as an occasional potted plant, garden, or park.  Rarely is it left to flourish as it did before humans or their influence interfered.

REVISED: Essay on Jean Toomer’s “Georgia Dusk”

“Georgia Dusk,” after first read, appears to paint a colorful, optimistic picture of hard-working life in Georgia. Toomer shatters this illusion in the third stanza when he draws our attention to dark imagery, as illustrated by the use of words such as “sawmill” and “sawdust piles.” If we don’t address this drastic shift, then we may miss the meaning behind the poem. When analyzed with a more skeptical eye, one comes to realize that the poem is drawing attention to the destructive nature of the slave south on the African American community.

The title, “Georgia Dusk,” provides us with a setting and context for the poem. Dusk is the fusion of light and dark, a time when the sun has just set but the moon has yet to take charge of the sky. Dusk, although beautiful, represents vagueness and ambiguity; it is a time when the line between a beginning and an end turns hazy. The smoky imagery, as evidenced by use of the term “dusk,” implies the joining of the light and dark, day and night, black and white. Here is our first hint at mixed race. Dusk implies Toomer’s ongoing struggle with self-identification. He feels that he is constantly stuck in a dusk-like period; he identifies with both African American and white societies. “The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue” and “The setting sun, too indolent to hold,” indicate that the sun is no longer clinging to the sky to prolong day, while the sky is too tired to pull back the sun. Light and dark imagery plague this first stanza; the “flashing gold” gives way to “night’s barbecue,” both of which illustrate colors of a sunset. There is an ongoing tug of war between these two periods.

As dusk settles, another day of work ceases and “moon, men, and barking hounds” come together in celebration of the survival of another day. This feast becomes more indulgent as Toomer chooses the word “orgy” as a descriptor. This word implies passion, song, dance, and drink. The “genius of the South” he describes in that same line is anyone who is able to take such a dismal situation and turn it on its axis to create a scapegoat for optimism and positivity. The musical imagery follows, indicated by the line, “Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.” This line serves as a lamentation for whoever created and fostered the discovery of the soul music that keeps these slaves going even when all hope seems lost. In the end, the camaraderie and joy that song brings to these people cannot be rivaled, and it licks their wounds and provides an escape from their gloomy lives. In addition, the rhythm in this quatrain is important. The first and fourth lines (“hounds” and “sounds”), as well as the second and third (“South” and “mouth”) are coupled together in a rhyme scheme. The hounds, men, and moon that gather for the feast are the ones surprised at the power of song from the soul illustrated in the fourth line. The second and third lines indicate the focus of one “genius” to turn negative energy into positive energy by transforming the slaves’ experiences through song. These two lines are in the middle of the stanza, indicating that the genius serves as the bridge and glue between the songs from the soul and the hounds, moon, and men.

These memories of “king and caravan, high-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man” trudging along a swamp singing skips back over slavery to imagine an elevated past for these people, a past where they thrived as kings and priests. The “chorus of cane,” however, rises above the high-priests and king’s songs. Although beauty was previously present here, it has given way to ongoing destruction. This stanza is an indication of the people grappling with the past, as they continue to have their voices drowned out by the elite white class. The musical imagery in this stanza, terms such as “strumming” and “chorus” indicate the importance of song to a lost people in rediscovering their place in society. The only way they can feel at peace is through voices coming together in song. Toomer calls these people together to rise “above the sacred whisper of the pine, give virgin lips to cornfield concubines.” Their efforts are soon thwarted, however, as the “dreams of Christ” fade and pass quickly, leaving behind a shadow of despair.

All the imagery I’ve described so far is connected to an underlying theme: time. The dusk is a metaphor for the current period of history. Slavery has just ended and people are unsure with which culture to identify. It is complicated to remember and claim as one’s own these cultural practices that grew out of oppression and bondage characteristic of the slave south. In the fourth stanza, “former domicile” illustrates the problems for former slaves of re-envisioning the south as their home. Toomer’s saying that if a former slave remains in the south at this time, rather than moving to the north, they need to rethink the past and culture to make it tolerable, as well as their own. It is difficult to envision their history as their own because it was written and controlled by white power. There has been some effort to destroy the past, as evidenced by the ghosts of trees imagery, but it continues to linger in the African American culture. Toomer builds on this unclear history when he discusses the “vestiges of pomp” in the next stanza. The past is a vestige and no one knows how to deal with it. It’s hard for former slaves residing in the south to resolve that circumstance with the idea of a comfortable home. Toomer believed that there was real culture among the slaves, but by basing that culture off of slave society with a white handprint, you’re reconstructing a culture that’s not entirely your own. In other words, you get caught up in those small ambivalences. For example, slave spirituals, although they are beautiful songs, are tainted by slavery and white influence. How can you claim those cultural practices as your own when they grew out of oppression? Further evidence for this situation is illustrated in the final stanza when Toomer uses Christian imagery. These dreams of Christ parallel the former slaves’ dreams of the past. Just as Christ rose again, so will the African American race. It’s a sign of purification and enlightenment.

Toomer is calling attention the struggle of the African American community. They are trapped in a dusky period in history, unsure which culture to claim as their own and how to move forward. Up to this point, much of their cultural history had been controlled by the white race. Toomer claims that they need to create their own culture in order to cleanse themselves of white control.

Revised: A CLOSE READING ON FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S CRITICISM IN “GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE”

Before Flannery O’Connor was a writer, she desired to become a political cartoonist, a person who emphasizes a character flaw of a politician or the stupidity of a political event by drawing it larger. But this mockery of politicians and events is not without purpose; it draws attention, literally, to areas of politics where change is required or might be made. In “Good Country People,” published in O’Conner’s 1955 collection A Good Man is Hard to Find, she emphasizes stereotypical human clichés or the flaws of her characters in the same way that she would expose those of a politician. Despite O’Connor’s southern roots and Roman Catholic faith, she criticizes every character within “Good Country People” from the bible-lovers to the highfalutin intellectual atheists. She does not seek likeability for her characters or offer resolutions in her story where resolutions do not exist, as the moral ambiguity of all her characters is meant to demonstrate the moral ambiguity of all human beings. In this way, O’Connor’s use of criticism exposes the reality of her character’s conceptions of what is good and meaningful as opposed to evil, whether it be religion, freedom, philosophy, etc., in hopes of improving those conceptions as well as any previous conceptions held by the reader.

The one-dimensional names O’Connor gives to her characters are immediately significant in that they assign a stereotypical function to each character, serving to interconnect them through collective criticism and point to numerous flawed conceptions of religion and freedom. Mrs. Hopewell literally hopes well, when she spews out clichés like “Nothing is perfect… that is life! And still another, the most important, was: well, other people have their opinions too” (1341). She shuts her eyes to any form of negativity or pessimism, especially the discourse of her daughter Joy (1346). Mrs. Freeman, whom she hires to take care of things around the house, is the foil to Mrs. Hopewell because she sees to everything. Her “steel-pointed eyes” look down on Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Hopewell’s daughter as they eat their breakfast every morning (1343). Yet, Mrs. Freeman is not a free man like her name suggests because she is the servant of Mrs. Hopewell, and her degree of interest in everyone’s affairs but her own leaves her little freedom to do anything for herself. Mrs. Hopewell labels her help or the Freeman family, “good country people” (1341) instead of trash, but the phrase “good country people” is later repeated throughout the story to refer ironically to Manly Pointer, who appears as a bible salesman at the beginning but turns out to be a thief of “interesting things” by the end (1353). It seems Mrs. Hopewell’s faith in God and in all humans to an almost comical degree led to her oversimplified impressions of both Mrs. Freeman and Manly Pointer. In Mrs. Hopewell’s last dialogue of the story upon seeing Manly Pointer run out of the woods, she preaches the words, “He was so simple… but I guess the world would be better off if we were all that simple,” misperceiving the evil con artist that is Manly Pointer. However, Mrs. Freeman states frankly that not everyone can be that simple (1353). She does not close her eyes to the world around her like Mrs. Hopewell because not all free men can be oversimplified as do-gooders with so many existing liberties to do evil. Thus, Manly Pointer’s role points to the reoccurring misconception of blind faith in the story.

The divergence between blind faith and philosophy is introduced to the story through the comparison of Mrs. Hopewell to her daughter. While the interesting thing Manly Pointer stole was in fact the prosthetic leg belonging to Mrs. Hopewell’s daughter, he also points to the flaws of Joy, later turned Hulga. Although Hulga is thirty-two in the story and has already a Ph.D., Mrs. Hopewell still sees her as a child: “Here she went about all day in a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt with a faded cowboy on a horse embossed on it… She was brilliant but she didn’t have a grain of sense” (1343). The childlike clothing choice and occasional mannerisms of Hulga throughout the story shows that one can have great intellect but be void of sense. It also demonstrates Hulga’s naivety or lack of real world experience. Mrs. Hopewell finds her reading books that denounce science on the basis that science is concerned only with “what-is” (1344). Since no phenomenon can ever fully be proved, science becomes the study of nothing. Hence, Hulga believes herself to be the embodiment of “what should be.” But if one’s world consists only of reading philosophical books with statements such as these and no confrontation with true hardship, it is very normal that religious faith would be seen as unnecessary. On the other hand, if one is not a college graduate but has experienced much over a lifetime, it is very normal that religious practice would be seen as a dominant part of life. Imagine the mixing of the two and they won’t see eye to eye. For example, Hulga once said to her mother, “Woman! Do you every look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!… Malebranche was right: we are not our own light!” (1344). While Hulga might have exclaimed “God!” out of frustration, it also seems that she is telling her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, that she cannot and will never be God or his preacher. Yet, in citing Malebranche, the philosopher, Hulga makes a mistake. He believed “we are not our own light” because God is our light, where as Hulga is trying to make the point that there is no light at all because there is no God in which to believe. It seems that O’Connor purposely employs this misquote so as to criticize both Mrs. Hopewell for her full reliance on God and Hulga for her full reliance on intellect at one time, creating opposing personas and a seemingly irremediable relationship. Malebranche was at once a philosopher and a man of faith; cannot Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga follow his lead?

The dichotomy or the line between religion and philosophy becomes even blurrier once O’Connor’s full criticism of Hulga’s reasoning is realized. Hulga prosthetic leg, an artificiality or deformity so to speak, exiles her from the rest of society (at least she believes it to). “She was as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about his tail” (1351). She obsesses over the grotesqueness of the leg and projects that obsession onto others like Mrs. Freeman because she believes herself to be devoid of all feeling. Her name too is significant in that it is a mirror image of her ugly leg, having “arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound” (1342). She also chose Hulga because it would allow her to detach herself from her mother. No longer Joy, she would deny Mrs. Hopewell any joy from her person. Thus, she changes her name to something stronger and removes everything from her life in the same way she does her mother so as to become less vulnerable, except for her leg of course. But in reality, she can’t remove herself from society entirely like she could her leg because all people seek some sort of attention, acceptance, or companionship. Hulga’s interaction with Manly Pointer becomes proof of her desire for something of the sort as she believes she is seducing a childlike bible salesman, when really, he is seducing her naïve self. “She decided that for the first time in her life she was face to face with real innocence… it was like surrendering to him completely. It was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his” (1352). This seduction scene mirrors the image of Christ as someone decides to put all faith in him, which is ironic because Hulga is a proclaimed atheist and also because “innocence” is not normally associated with any form of seduction. Once Manly Pointer pulls out alcohol and playing cards from the inside of one of his Bibles, Hulga finally realizes his deception; he is not a “perfect Christian” (1353). The third and final irony is that Hulga attached herself to the only thing in her life that could literally be fully detached, her prosthetic leg, and Manly Pointer takes that leg upon leaving her. Pointer affirms at once that there exists both the idea of believing in absolutely nothing, as he turns out to be a nihilistic atheist himself, and having faith to contradict the evils of the world like theft. Hulga for example might need some kind of faith in her life after that experience. In conclusion, the reader is left not knowing which character to like or whether to side with religion, philosophy, or any other conception of good as O’Connor’s criticism has left no one and nothing unblemished.

O’Connor’s criticism seems to say that every human being is a composition of both good and evil parts. However, she does not attempt to preach or sermonize naively about how to become purely good or achieve perfection as a human being. With this quote, “…The good is something under construction. The modes of evil usually receive worthy expression. The modes of good have to be satisfied with a cliché or a smoothing down that will soften their real look.” (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1969), Flannery O’Connor directs the reader to her ultimate goal. All of her characters from the faithful to the non-believers are criticized because none are fully developed in their conceptions of what is good and what is meaningful. Their character development is a forever-ongoing process as is the relationship between religion, philosophy, science, etc., in the real world. While Malebranche and Manly Pointer’s role seem to point to a form of coexistence between faith and philosophy as well as good and evil, we will never know the perfect combination. And while evil is easily recognizable, good cannot be recognized without evil; good requires the unmasking of clichés and evils to be realized. O’Connor’s use of criticism simply allows the reader to come closer to what is meaningful and good by unmasking what is not.

Revised: Cyclical Despair and Redemption in “Spring and All”

Cyclical Despair and Redemption:

A Close Reading of “Spring and All” by William Carlos Williams

             The season of spring often connotes beauty and vitality; but perhaps the temporality of the season exudes tragedy as opposed to romantic optimism. William Carlos Williams’ poem “Spring and All” depicts the dawning of springtime as it enters and struggles against the incumbent, oppressive winter. The strong use of metaphorical device that radiates throughout the work indicates a human condition stretching beyond the seemingly descriptive landscape. Indeed, William’s stylistic and linguistic choices depict an element of futility in life, suggesting frustration at its ad nauseam cyclicality and inevitable mortality.

Williams utilizes  the language to create a boldly dire exposition of the winter landscape, as demonstrated by the following passage:

… Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water (“Spring” 4-7)

Descriptive words such as “waste,” “muddy,” “brown,” “dried weeds,” and “fallen” all convey the desolation and stagnancy that permeate the locale, a place described as “[b]y the road to the contagious hospital” (1). The road is leading to a place of supposed healing; and yet illness, despair, and death dominate over the salubrious potential. The road is almost too direct, too certain – and its surroundings suggest its unavoidable destination. The immediate declaration of such a linear path reinforces the notion of Williams’ depiction of nature connecting to human life, as one frequently associates the imagery of a road with the depiction of the journey of one’s existence. Williams sets the destination with finality, for “to the contagious hospital” does not suggest that it serves a mere stop by the wayside of an infinite path, but instead is the end destination.

Contagious may further be developed to reflect the nature of the imminent emergence of spring through the rapid spread of symptoms as “It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf” (22). The seasonal components infuse the barren landscape in somewhat of an ironic matter. Disease corrupts and wears away an infected body, subjecting the physical form to nefarious effects; yet the decay is already present within the manifestation of nature Williams presents. Spring appears as an opportunity for rebirth, perhaps for even a more sustainable renewal. It enters into a bleak, faded landscape of “reddish” and “purplish” hues, set amongst “twiggy” shrubbery, “dead, brown leaves,” and “leafless vines” (9, 10, 12, 13). All are suggestive of absence – of something that once was brilliant but that has since passed away into decay.

Though one may associate spring with new life, Williams portends its demise as immediately as he recognizes its entrance. An essential, decisive line break indicates this:

leafless vines –

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches – (13-15)

This transition from the description of the dying earth to the entrance of spring foreshadows the fate of the naïve season; for the pairing of the lines places them in a shared physical space within the text, bridging the two notions together into what was and what will be. Spring enters tentatively, not exuding hope, but instead becoming an object of sympathy in its “naked,” “uncertain of all” existence (16, 17). By the process that clarifies “outline of leaf,” there is a hesitant shift from the abstract uncertainty from which the season forms. It is pregnant period, which in turn transitions to emergence, the process of definition emulating the birth of an infant being. The vulnerability of spring in this fledgling form makes it susceptible to the world’s cruelty. The expectation of death encompasses what should be joyous proceedings; by the very condition of existence, one begins to die the very day one is born.

Thus, the spring is not pretentious or presumptuous of the beauty it might bring; its unknowing innocence ultimately translates into naiveté that allows the world around it to overwhelm its elements as it later “begins to awaken” (27). This awakening indicates not only the profuse burst of diverse flora and activity of fauna, but also is a somewhat dreadful occurrence; for its entrance comes with “stark dignity” that recognizes the ephemerality of its beauty (24). This intrinsic transience will cause it to shift into a darker state of being, into that inevitable decay which surrounded its initial growth. The “profound change” serves as merely a distraction from the overwhelming reality of death (25). Vitality is fleeting, ethereal; it transitions into the lethargy of mediocrity. Though vitality dissolves, the product of decay is accumulated and left to rot.

Several elements of the poem remind the audience of its own mortality and vulnerability. These include the aforementioned image of the road to the hospital, as well as other imagery that personifies the season of spring. For example, qualifiers like “dazed,” “naked,” and “uncertain,” as well as verbs such as “approaches” and “awaken” may be associated with human forms and actions (15, 16, 17; 15, 27). This allows the season, the natural surroundings, and the human observer to converge into one state of being. This poem seems to suggest that ultimately, humans are highly intellectually developed animals which have electively distanced themselves from their natural origins through separatist mindset and mechanical developments. “Spring and All” reminds the human race of the carbon which comprises all life, that which all are essentially formed from and shall one day return to.

A distinct theme of cyclicality is present in the piece. Williams’ prose held within the volume Spring and All substantiates this idea. In Chapter VI he states, “Through the orderly sequences of unmentionable time EVOLUTION HAS REPEATED ITSELF FROM THE BEGINNING” (804). Williams appropriately titles Chapter XIX – which immediately precedes the poem “Spring and All” in the book – as “The Traditionalists of Plagiarism”. Williams cites parallels throughout the earth’s existence. Perhaps there has been some hint of progression, but nature has essentially never truly changed, having only gone through a series of cyclical processes that have led to little revelation as to meaning of existence or even hinting to the direction in which one should aim to move. The poem essentially carries this theme forth by emphasizing life’s futile struggle towards beauty and the inevitable decay and destruction of everything prized. People continue to make the same mistakes: there is love, hate, war, poverty, misunderstanding – most feelings and actions remain calculable. This pattern of existence has not evolved; there is yet to be a revolutionary shift in human sentiment or in the functions of the world, except when artificially implemented. This in turn indicates a stagnancy in existence, effectively instilling futility into the concept of being.

Though this pessimistic notion may be perturbing to realize, there is also a great dark splendor contained within, for it inspires one to consider the expanse of the universe and the consistency with which it operates. Is not the clockwork magnificent? “Spring and All” dwells upon fatalistic beauty of nature; yet the dualism of the phrase “This too shall pass” rings throughout its lines. Indeed, “Spring and All” may further stimulate – as opposed to stifle – the desire for distinction and individuality; for while the brilliance proffered by the idea of spring may rapidly fade, its audacious attempt at existence offers the crucial hope that the weary extant world lacks.

Revised Essay: “Insights from ‘Footnote to Howl'”

Insights from “Footnote to Howl”

Alan Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” is an ecstatic, emotional, drug-charged, and sensual description of the Beat generation and their opposition forces in the world. Ginsberg takes the reader on a world through the American underbelly, revealing the traits, dreams, and fears of those who identify with the Beat generation. The epic poem is gritty and wild, touching on various themes in the lives of the Beats including homosexuality, drug usage, vagrancy, and art. The appendix to “Howl” seems at once both perfectly in accordance with the original work and an anomaly straying from the established themes. Upon close reading, however, “Footnote to Howl” can offer the reader insight into the complexity of the original poem and additionally the complexity of Ginsberg’s view of humanity. The appendix acts as a microscope by which the reader can examine the true nature of Ginsberg’s message. Through “Footnote to Howl,” Ginsberg suggests that, while the world is plagued by the evil of Moloch, such a society is necessary to grasp the holiness of life, and that those who identify with the Beat generation are the only ones who can take advantage of this evil world to uncover its true beauty.

The style and rhythm of “Footnote to Howl” maintains the exclamatory, lively pace established in the original poem, causing one to question whether it is really a separate poem at all. In describing the rhythm of “Howl,” Ginsberg once stated that each line is to be read as “one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of one breath.” This meter is maintained in the footnote, as each additional line presents a new thought, and diverges from the line preceding it. The footnote, like the preceding poem, is full of repetition. It opens with fifteen proclamations on the holiness of everything: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!” (Norton 1363) This introduction is at once exhausting and intriguing, conjuring the image of a religious lunatic howling in the streets. Furthermore, through such repetition, Ginsberg seems to be desanctify the concept of holiness. The reverence of the word is lost when juxtaposed with such sacrosanct images as the “bum” and “cocks of the grandfathers.” In some ways this is the effect Ginsberg hopes to have, as he continues the poem with a declaration of all that is truly, yet gruesomely, holy. As with the word “who” in Part I of “Howl” and the phrase “I am with you in Rockland” in Part III, the word “holy” is used to hinge the rhythm of the poem and allow Ginsberg to experiment with the long verse style. Unlike in the original poem, this base word is not the beginning of every line, but is scattered throughout the poem. Such a distribution of the apparent base word implies that the speaker is bursting with anticipation to express his thoughts, whereas he seems more collected in the first three parts. In the rhythm and meter of “Footnote,” Ginsberg preserves what was established in “Howl,” and yet he provides a variation on what is expected in ways that make the footnote a poem all its own.

After the vivacious opening lines, “Footnote” becomes a list of things Ginsberg and the Beats dub holy, but at which the majority of the world would scoff. “The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! / … the bum’s as holy as the seraphim!” (1363). In this way, Ginsberg continues with his religious association, but completely reverses the concept of sacredness. The body parts listed as holy are ones perceived as dirty and vile by the majority of the world. The sexuality of “Footnote” is apparent in these lines, as it is throughout the original poem. Here, however, Ginsberg intricately unites sexuality (specifically homosexuality; there are no female-specific body parts referenced) with religion when he compares a “bum” to be as holy as a “seraphim.” The homosexual images conjured by the so-called holy objects create a dissonance in the reader’s mind, as what is perceived as proper is incorporated with what is often deemed lewd and sinful. While this may be shocking out of context, when read after “Howl,” the homosexual images are not all that surprising, as there are several other references to such images in the original poem.

If the first half of “Footnote to Howl” is concordant with Ginsberg’s already established opinions, the second half of the footnote deviates strikingly from the norm. After spending nearly all of Part II of “Howl” condemning the industrial, militaristic society in which the Beats find themselves, Ginsberg retracts on this and claims, “Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! /… Holy the lone juggernaut! / … holy the Angel in Moloch!” (1364) It is through these images that the ultimate message of Ginsberg comes to light. While he does accuse the devilish Moloch figure in Part II of “Howl” of being the destroyer of “the best minds of [his] generation,” (1356) he clarifies his position by insisting that these destructive forces are in fact holy. For Ginsberg, it is only through these forces that the true nature of the world can be seen by those destroyed minds. In this light, the destroyed minds no longer carry a negative, tragic connotation, but rather a joyous one, because only once the mind is destroyed can it truly appreciate all that is holy. Evidence for this is provided in the middle of “Footnote to Howl” when Ginsberg lists the holiest minds he knows, the leaders of the Beat generation: “Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac…/ holy the hideous human angels!” (1363) These are the destroyed minds, and yet these are also the insightful and intense minds. Additionally, the Beat generation only came about because of these destructive forces. The destroyed minds met amongst the skyscrapers and factories of Moloch and gave birth to the philosophies of the Beats. For Ginsberg, without Moloch there is no Beat generation, and because of this, there is still an angelic force about the ugliness of Moloch.

While there is not much information on Ginsberg’s motivation for writing a separate poem as an appendix to his epic description of humanity, it is fair to assume that “Footnote to Howl” was composed to provide clarification for Ginsberg’s original poem. “Footnote” was written upon Ginsberg’s learning that “Howl” was going to be published. Part summary and part resolution, “Footnote” gives the reader an opportunity to understand “Howl” in a completely different context. Stylistic and thematic similarities between the two distinct poems ensure the reader that they are to be understood in the context of one another, while the differences between the two provide clarity on Ginsberg’s ultimate message in “Howl.” Without “Footnote to Howl,” Ginsberg’s message in “Howl” is one of despair and insanity, but when the two are taken in context, the message is altered so that the reader understands the necessity of the destruction and the redemption such insanity provides.

Revised Close Reading of “Song for a Dark Girl”

 

          Poetry has been battling cultural and social norms since cavemen wrote on walls. African Americans, however, did not get the opportunity to truly express their voice and challenge the discrimination and oppression they faced in America until after emancipation. Even after this blacks were subject to extreme violence and injustice, still being seen as inferior citizens of the United States. Langston Hughes wrote poetry that opposed the social views on race of the white population during the 1920s. He incorporated aspects of the perspectives of both races in order to show the injustices being done to African Americans. The rhythm of jazz poetry he used in much of his poetry was unique when he first began and was instrumental in establishing his voice and driving home his themes. The rhythm of Hughes’ poem “Song for a Dark Girl” incorporates jazz poetry and reads like a ritualistic chant. By using lyrics from “Dixie” within this chant-like-poem, Hughes juxtaposes the use of lynching as established entertainment from the perspective of the white community and as a paralyzing form of control from the viewpoint of blacks. This juxtaposition ultimately serves to express Hughes’ view on the lack of racial equality in the “free” south.

            The lynching present in “Song for a Dark Girl” is seen as an atrocious act that symbolizes the height of intolerance in America. While Hughes paints a sorrowful picture, lynching was not seen as oppressive by many in the 1920s. Lynching was a form of entertainment and community bonding. It would be advertised that a black citizen was to be lynched and people would gather at the location anxious to witness the death of another: a form of live action entertainment like a festival or play. One did not even have to be present at the lynching in order to get the entertainment value; lynching photography was widely spread for the purpose of white voyeurism and to control and instill fear in African Americans. There was no escape in the US from this horrifying public festivity.

            Hughes’ plays off this idea of entertainment, by heavily incorporating music into the poem. The references to music and entertainment within “Song for a Dark Girl” start with the title. By calling this poem a “song” Hughes immediately establishes that there is a musically entertaining aspect to the poem. Though it is not a song in the traditional sense, one reads it in a chant like rhythm. Chanting falls under the umbrella of musical entertainment, whether it be a band leading a chant at a football game or part of a recorded song. By repeating “Way Down South in Dixie” as the first line in each stanza, Hughes incites the repetition of chants and their often melodic qualities (1042). In order to emphasize the melody aspect of the poem, he rhymes the second and fourth lines of each stanza. Along with having musical qualities, the poem chanting feels ritualistic. A ritual that has become routine and monotonous, as though none of the actions are surprising and have become a part of everyday life. On top of these facts, it is also similar to a religious ritual. In religion, worshippers act in ways that they feel will better the world and please the superior power. In this case, the white community sees the world as a better place when blacks are oppressed and killed when necessary, and they view themselves as the superior power.

The black woman even accepts this pretense of white religious power. Hughes’ writes, “I asked the white Lord Jesus/ What was the use of prayer.” (1042) This “white Lord Jesus” accepts the lynching, and does not condemn it despite it being a grave sin. Not only is the physical world the young lover in wrought with oppression, but so is the spiritual world. By cutting off one of the only avenues for solace, this makes it nearly impossible to escape the horrors of racial prejudice anywhere.

In “Song for a Dark Girl” the community as a whole is represented by one lover. To this community the music was not entertaining; it was often a coping mechanism for people to deal with the hardships in life, and that is how the speaker of the poem is using the chant. Reading, “Love is a naked shadow/ On a gnarled and naked tree” one can feel the pain leaping off the page in the same way an audience feels when a great musician plays a sad song (1042). The speaker is aware that her opinion and sadness means nothing in the greater, white dominated world, so she uses this song as a way to let her sorrow be felt.

The music in the poem can be seen in a third light as well. Hughes incorporates jazz rhythms in a way that the reader could imagine it being sung like a jazz song. “Way Down South in Dixie” would be wailed out by the musician, and as he made his way through each stanza the singer would move to a sad, bluesy tone (1042). The use of jazz poetry gives it a distinctly African American point of view despite the fact that there are many references to the white viewpoint. Hughes is able to use this technique as a way to contrast the perspectives and effects of lynching on both the black and white communities.

“Way Down South in Dixie:” these lyrics are the ultimate examples of the antebellum South and paralyzing control (1042). These lyrics that begin each stanza in Hughes’poem are from the popular minstrel song “Dixie.” This once again emphasizes just how much Southerners saw lynching as a form of entertainment. Minstrelsy was the single most popular form of entertainment in the late 1800s and its popularity continued through the 1920s. Also, minstrelsy was much more than a popular form of entertainment; it was an overarching form of control. Whites used it as a way to keep blacks as the inferior race in the US. They projected an image of what the African American and his culture were and this was perceived as the actual behavior and culture of African American. That is what these lyrics meant to blacks: oppression, control, and slavery. Also, including this lyric does much more than drive home that point. It allows for a comparison between the 1920s and the antebellum South. By starting each stanza with this phrase, Hughes says that the 1920s South is the same as the antebellum South, the only separator of the two is time. There has not been progression. Once again, Hughes is capable of taking one aspect and allowing it to represent both the white and black communities and how they oppose one another.

Hughes is able to highlight just how oppressed the African American is through the use of parentheses in the second line of each stanza. By placing the feelings of the African American woman in parentheses after the white supremacist lyric “Way Down South in Dixie”, Hughes makes these feelings seem like an afterthought (1042). In writing parentheses often surround a side note that is not central to the main point of the text. By putting “(break the heart of me)” in parentheses, there is the implication that the sorrow, that the feelings of the “Dark Girl” are secondary in the world of white supremacy. This purposely creates the sense that these thoughts are less important and just something to consider if the reader wants to take the time to read what is in them. The ability to emphasize the African American condition, while still showing it from a white perspective is the ultimate truth that Hughes reveals in this poem.

While this poem strongly evokes the white perspective in order juxtapose it to the experiences of the black community, Hughes, who had much racial pride, still makes it clear that this is a poem about the struggles of African Americans in the US. The true power of “Song for a Dark Girl” comes from Hughes’ ability to layer many difference perspectives and meanings into each word in order to make a statement about America’s racial injustice.

Revised: A Close Analysis of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

The protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” finds himself dying with a gangrenous infection, stranded in the African wilderness with his wife and several guides, facing imminent death. He responds to his wife’s genuine concern with sarcasm and nihilistic acceptance of death. It is easy to quickly dismiss Harry’s behavior as crass and tactless, especially from the dialogue. He even initially chooses to trivialize the direness of his situation, and makes unreasonable comments such as, “What about a drink?” and, “What the hell should I fool with broth for? Molo bring whiskey-soda,” to the great dismay of his wife. And yet, Harry appears to intermittently make kind remarks to his wife, such as , “You shoot marvelously, you know.”  Despite Harry’s appearance as a nihilistic and inconsiderate individual in Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, the author’s usage of dialogue and flashbacks suggest the possibility of Harry  as a character with good intent.

To begin, a closer inspection of Harry’s behavior towards his wife will reveal a deep lack of ill will, and an attempt to reduce her suffering following his death. It is very much possible that Harry has internally accepted his fate from the beginning of the story. Perhaps he continually makes crude remarks that distress Helen to push her away from him as he approaches his demise, in an attempt to minimize the sense of loss that she will experience. When Helen hopefully suggests the possibility of trucks from the village arriving to rescue the members of the expedition, Harry promptly retorts with, “I don’t give a damn about the truck”. He follows this callous remark with, “You give a damn about so many things that I don’t.” On the surface-level, Harry’s comments are both insulting and upsetting to Helen. However, these utterances are prime examples of Harry attempting to soften the blow of his impending death. His nihilistic comments are a method of forcing Helen to accept his death, as acceptance is a significant part of the coping process (though in a latter stage). Harry’s attempts to convince Helen to acknowledge the difficult truth that he will die may be harsh and insensitive, but it is actually an indicator of Harry’s good will, and his desire for her to move on with life after his death. Other examples of this desire are reflected in his other comments such as, “Can’t you let a man die comfortably without calling him names?” and, “Don’t be silly. I’m dying now. Ask those bastards.” When he insults his wife for caring about too many things, Harry is chipping away at the relationship that has grown between them to reduce the impact of his death on her. When an elaborate, beautiful structure such as their relationship shatters suddenly with his death, the fallout will be massive, and Helen would be crushed. Other examples of this behavior include, “You rich bitch,” and, “Your damned money was my armour. My sword and armour.” Harry beginning to carve away at their relationship will render this structure scarred and crumbling, but the aftermath would be significantly less catastrophic. A deeper observation of Harry’s dialogue with Helen reveals a desire to reduce her suffering following his death, rather than callous remarks to increase her suffering.

Dispersed amongst Harry’s seemingly cruel comments is more overt evidence of his good will and care for Helen’s well-being. Despite being in severe pain, Harry is mindful enough to tell her that she, “better put her mosquito boots on,” out of concern for her health. Though it is easy to overlook, the pure selflessness and cognizance Harry demonstrates for Helen’s well-being is astonishing, given his own health circumstances. He also demonstrates genuine concern and care for Helen with his statement, “I love you, really. You know I love you.” The sporadic placement of his overtly caring comments amongst his more frequent negative comments creates an image of Harry attempting to push his wife away to reduce her future suffering, and attempt to instill in her an acceptance of death. However, one can speculate that Harry feels guilt for his cruelty, and it is in these instances that Harry makes an overtly empathetic, caring comment. Hemingway follows the aforementioned line with some insight into Harry’s cognition, which claims that his previous statement was a lie. However, this can also be perceived as Harry’s attempt to convince himself that he does not love Helen. To summarize this notion, Harry is in an emotional situation that is extremely difficult to navigate. He must overtly ridicule and distress his wife to reduce her future suffering, while he also attempts to convince himself that he does not love her, to reduce his own emotional suffering as he dies. The crassness of Harry’s comments belies his truly sensitive and well-meaning nature.

Not only does Harry’s present behavior truly demonstrate his core nature, but Harry’s behavior in the past as depicted through a flashback also further elucidates his capacity for good. When the bombing officer Williamson is gravely wounded, Harry, “gave him all his morphine tablets that he had always saved to use himself…” Harry makes an ultimate sacrifice: he parts with the one saving grace that would have massively dwindled the suffering of death by injury to help comfort his fellow soldier. Not only has Hemingway established Harry’s positive qualities in the present, but the flashbacks prove that Harry is, and has been a good man. It is obvious that Harry is perfectly capable of good, and his selfless behavior in the past serves as significant evidence of this trait.

Hemingway’s protagonist sacrifices for the sake of others in the past and present through the timeline of this short story, presented by the usage of dialogue and flashbacks. Sacrifice for the good of others is one of the supreme indicators of good will and selflessness, two traits that are not immediately perceptible in Harry. However, to completely overlook the sacrifices he has made could be a gross mischaracterization of the individual.

 

A Revised Close Reading of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”

Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, is a relatable commentary on the human tendency to simultaneously fear and yearn for human connection. Told through the lens of the narrator’s personal experience with this, the poem centers on the point that this fear humans have of true connection is complicated by their simultaneous longing for said connection. Humans put up walls because they are scared to connect, get involved, and put themselves out there, yet there is this constant, nagging feeling of longing to question and break down these walls in pursuit of meaningful connection. The entirety of Mending Wall centers on questioning the notion that “Good fences make good neighbors” (Frost 27).

The poem begins with much imagery surrounding the wall. The assertion that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (1), immediately bringing to the reader’s attention the complexity of the situation – walls are put up, but they do not go without questioning and scrutiny. This line seems to suggest that there is something intrinsic in humans that does not approve of this natural tendency to block others out and isolate from one another. The “frozen-ground swell[ing]” (2) under the wall suggests a resistance from the ground, as it tries to swell up and push up against the wall from underneath, attempting to crumble the foundation of the wall so that it may collapse and “spill” the “upper boulders” that make up the wall “in the sun” (3). Here the wall imagery centers around nature which implies the fact that nature and the natural world – the frozen earth beneath the wall, the sun, etc. – all want the wall to be broken down, that perhaps the wall is something unnatural and solely created by humans but not truly meant to be there.

The poem then takes the story back in time to the “hunters” (5) that came in time before the author narrating the story. The “hunters” who came before the narrator “have left not one stone on a stone”, meaning that the “hunters” never built the walls so common to mankind now; that back in the age of “hunters”, there were no walls because the society was community-oriented, men were together, bonded closely and meaningfully attached to one another. Yet, as the narrator confesses in the line, “I have come after them and made repair/Where they have left not one stone on stone” (6), he came after these hunters and “made repair”, or built up these previously un-built walls. The word repair is interesting here because it usually indicates a positive image – repairing something is fixing it and making it better. Yet here the reader is left to question whether this “repairing” of the wall is actually doing any “repairing” at all. In a way, the “repairing” of the wall, in context of the isolation and separation that the wall represents, seems to contradict its own meaning – it is actually harmful and damaging for humans to build these walls. The next line “They would have the rabbit out of hiding,/To please the yelping dogs” (8) may seem like it is referring “they” to the hunters, but the narrator quickly corrects this idea stating directly after, “The gaps I mean” (9). These gaps are gaps found within the walls and are what “would have the rabbit out of hiding/To please the yelping dogs”. This means to display the fear humans have at having any gaps in their wall and points to why the walls are put up in the first place: fear. Humans hide and build these gapless, completely solid walls to keep away from the “yelping dogs” that are other humans. There is this fear that we are helpless, endangered rabbits just waiting to be teared apart– perhaps physically, but even more so emotionally – by the yelping dogs that are other humans, and for this reason, we resort to building walls to isolate ourselves and more significantly, to protect ourselves from others and the pain other humans are capable of inflicting on us.

These gaps referred to seem to be mysterious, as “No one has seen them made or heard them made” (10), however “at spring mending-time we find them there” (11). This “spring-mending time” is an interesting line to deconstruct as spring is a time in which people venture out of their houses or winter hiding places, and thus would seem like a wonderful time in which one is able to be with other people and join into the company and community of others. Yet the imagery of this beautiful time when people come together is sullied by the realization that spring time is also “mending time” and is a time when people come outside solely to fix the “gaps” in their walls, not to come outside to be together. Here, this beautiful springtime with so much potential for human connection is ruined by the fact that the mending occurring is for the walls, and thus is a perpetuation of human separation. The narrator “let [his] neighbor know” that the gaps were there, and they “meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us once again”. Even as they repair and refill the gaps in their walls, they “keep the wall between [themselves] as [they] go” (15). All of this description serves to illustrate the immense amount of reluctance there is to have any contact or connection at all – the wall is constantly present between the narrator and his neighbor, illustrating the constant safe distance kept from one another. As each person constantly keeps this safe distance, each person is also forced to individually accept the “boulders that have fallen to each” (16), allowing these boulders to “wear our fingers rough with handling them” (20). There is this absolute rejection of sharing ones “boulders”, or burdens with another – the only option seems to be carrying ones burdens entirely alone, silently suffering and wearing oneself down with their immense weight.

The next lines “Oh, just another kind of outdoor game/One on a side,” turn the poem to point to the fact that humans do not take this separation and isolation as having serious consequences. To them, it is just “another kind of outdoor game”, one stays on their side, the other stays on their side. There seems to be a failure to see the serious implications of this separation from one another. However, as the narrator realizes and voices, “It comes to a little more” (22) than just an outdoor game; the building of walls to separate from one another does carry harmful implications in separating us from one another, leaving us all devoid of any meaningful contact or relationships.

At this point in the poem, the reader sees the narrator begin to deny the walls. In the line, “There where it is we do not need the wall” (23), the narrator essentially out rightly states that where the wall is, it does not need to be. Put more simply, the wall does actually not need to exist at all. This seems to be a revelation of the narrator’s, and thus he attempts to share this revelation with his neighbor. “He is pine and I am apple orchard/My apples trees will never get across/And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him” (24-26). Here, the narrator acknowledges and accepts the differences between himself (the apple tree) and his neighbor (the pine tree), but assures the neighbor it is safe and okay to take down the wall. Yet the neighbor refuses to see the truth in what the narrator has to say, still scared to break down the wall, and replies to this revelation with the cliché saying, “Good fences make good neighbors” (27). The reluctance of the neighbor to accept what the narrator is telling him reflects how difficult it is for one human to take another human on their word – what if the apple tree does end up coming over to “eat the cones under his pines”. There is too much uncertainty there, and such a high risk of getting lied to, stolen from, betrayed and hurt. Thus it seems better and safer to close oneself up, keep the distance, and protect oneself from this hurt through keeping the wall up. However the reader, in this vague and evasive cliché saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”, is invited to question this notion that any of this building of barriers between one another is actually “good”, healthy, or constructive in any way.

The narrator takes the task of questioning this idea upon himself and this time around, spring is not a time for “mending” the wall, but rather is a time where the “mischief” (28) in him comes out. There is thus a shift it what spring means for the narrator, from a time of building up and “mending” the wall to a time of mischief, questioning, and attempting to break down the wall. With this realization, the narrator wonders if he can “put a notion” in his neighbor’s head and make him too question, “Why do they make good neighbors” (30). However, the narrator realizes that trying to use his own experience and questioning of his walls to get the neighbor to question his own walls will not work, in the line  “I could say ‘Elves’ to him/But it’s not elves exactly and I’d rather he said it for himself” (36-37). The physical difference between the same word, “Elves” and elves, in this line is a representation of how the narrator cannot give the neighbor his own reasoning for questioning and taking down his walls as an answer for the neighbor’s own struggles because his reasoning for putting up his walls are entirely individual and different from that of his neighbors. Thus he could say “Elves” to his neighbor, but for the neighbor the reasoning would come out as “not elves exactly”. In the physical change of the word one can see that the reasons for putting up ones walls ultimately come out as different for every individual. The neighbor must “[say] it for himself”, meaning that the neighbor needs to figure out for himself what is prompting his tendency to build barriers. This hints at the larger point being made here which is that each individual needs to realize for themselves the root of why they put up their wall in order to be able to question it and eventually be okay with taking it down.

Through the shift in the narrator’s perception of walls from necessary to hurtful, Frost is able to display profound and relatable insight into the human condition and tendency to both create and break down the barriers that separate us from one another. The acknowledgement of this human tendency ultimately successfully brings the reader to seriously question the poem’s final note that “Good fences make good neighbors” (44).

 

 

 

Revised Essay: Circularity of Time in Faulkner’s Was

At the core of “Was” by William Faulkner, is the sense that time is not an unbounded line composed of external moments, but rather a series of internal impressions which flow and infuse into one another. Faulkner believes that human experiences are not set against the backdrop of objective linear time, but are part of subjective circular time, as demonstrated by his use of parallel structure that causes the events in “Was” to move in overlapping circles, rather than chronological narration. For Faulkner, the pattern of history is cyclical—the past manifests itself into the present so that they are essentially the same, but with slight differences. The parallel structure in “Was” demonstrates the circularity of time, allowing us to sense the past, present, and future as one form.

Faulkner emphasizes the indivisibility of present and past by making part one of “Was” a fragment by itself, but an introduction to Ike’s listening of his cousin’s story from the “old time” (4). This is seen by the fact that Ike is not listening to McCaslin’s tale in the present, but remembering a memory of it:

“not something he had participated in or even remembered except from the hearing, the listening, come to him through from his cousin McCaslin” (4).

Ike, “past seventy and nearer eighty” (3), is our best glimpse of the present in “Was,” yet this present is largely dominated by past events. For Faulkner, the past is unavoidable—it’s something for the present to continuously redefine and contemplate, and in “Was,” this can be seen through the re-narration of the story by Cass to Ike, and through Ike to us. These characters reconstruct a past during the present, thus their past, present and future are all intertwined. Memories, then, are not really memories, but part of the present because they affect what a character does in the present. With the past constantly shaping the present, the two are the same, but with a difference—a testament to Faulkner’s circular time.

This subtle difference in parallel structure can be seen in the hunt motifs of Uncle Buck’s chase of Tomey’s Turl, Sophonsiba’s desire for Uncle Buck, and the fox races at the beginning and end of the story. The chase between Uncle Buck and his slave, Tomey’s Turl, is multi-layered not only because the slave is a “half-white McCaslin” (5), but because Buck too is the object of a hunt by Miss Sophonsiba, who hopes to trap him into marriage.  When Buck and Cass hear the fox horn blow, signifying that they are near Mr. Hubert’s house, they plan to catch Tomey’s Turl “before he can den” (17). The use of the word “den” indicates that Tomey’s Turl is being likened to a hunted animal, as “denning” is a hunting technique where an animal is driven and trapped inside its home. Although Buck does not manage to catch Tomey’s Turl, he does manage to enter the “den” of Sophonsiba, humorously referred to as a bear.

“All right; you were a grown man and you knew it was bear-country and you knew the way back out like you knew the way in and you had your chance to take it But no. You had to crawl into the den and lay down by the bear” (21).

While Sophonsiba is technically referred to as the animal, it is really Uncle Buck who is viewed as trapped game. Once Buck is caught in Sophonsiba’s room, he must gamble for his freedom and for the slaves, according to the bet made between him and Mr. Hubert. After having “won” Sophonsiba through losing the card game, Buck must send for his brother Uncle Buddy to help him escape from the threat of marriage. Meanwhile, Buck starts to act like a slave himself, telling Cass that “if they pushed him too close…he would climb down the gutter too and hide in the woods until Uncle Buddy arrived” (24). The same way Tomey’s Turl hid in the woods from Uncle Buck (14), Uncle Buck is threatening to hide from Sophonsiba. With slight differences, we see the events in “Was” circling and metamorphosizing into each other.

Continuing this idea of circularity is the foreshadowing at the end of “Was.” Although Uncle Buddy does win his brother’s freedom, the ending suggests that in the future, Buck will be caught by Sophonsiba. When they return home, the dog “Old Moses” is found with the fox’s crate around his neck (28)—perhaps a symbolic prediction of Sophonsiba eventually placing the yoke of marriage on the other old dog, “old Buck” (12), as Tomey’s Turl calls him. But if Faulkner’s view of circular time holds true, this also forecasts that once again Uncle Buddy will come to Uncle Buck’s rescue, as “old Moses was still wearing most of the crate…until Uncle Buddy kicked [the crate] off of him” (28). Even though “Was” is a story of the past, we can see bits of the future, which is all still in the past if we take the “past seventy” Uncle Ike to be in the present. Thus the past, present, and future can be seen as one entity.

To complete the circle of time, the story ends and begins with the same fox race (4, 28), albeit with a subtle difference. Faulkner cleverly uses the word “treed” (5) to demonstrate how the fox uses the mantle to escape.  “Treed” refers to a hunted animal being forced to take refuge in a tree, thus the mantle serves as a metaphorical tree. Later, Faulkner brings this metaphor back when he describes the fox as “scrabbling up the lean-pole, onto the roof.” This time the race refers to the fox and the pole, and the pole is referred to as a tree “…the tree was too quick” (28). In both descriptions of the fox race, Faulkner uses a tree metaphor to tie them together.  The use of parallel structure in the events of the various chases, as well as inside the narratives, demonstrates the circularity of time in “Was.”